City / County Digest

CITY / COUNTY DIGEST

May 11, 2007

Sri Lankan pleads guilty in plot to arm terrorists

A representative of Sri Lankan insurgents who wanted to buy restricted munitions from what appeared to be an American military equipment company likely will face no more than six years in prison after pleading guilty to terrorism-related charges yesterday in federal court in Baltimore.

Thirunavukarasu Varatharasa, 37, of Sri Lanka pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and attempted exportation of arms and munitions. Federal guidelines call for a prison sentence of between 57 months and 71 months, according to Varatharasa's attorney, Arcangelo M. Tuminelli. U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake has not set a sentencing date.

Three other co-defendants in the case have pleaded guilty.

According to the plea agreement, Varatharasa conspired with three other foreign nationals in mid-2006 to export state-of-the-art firearms, machine guns and ammunition, surface-to-air missiles, night-vision goggles and other military weapons to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The group, also known as the Tamil Tigers, is designated by the U.S. Department of State as a foreign terrorist organization.

Looking to buy the arms and munitions, the four men contacted a military contractor in Maryland, which was in fact an undercover operation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

In late September, Varatharasa traveled to Saipan and Guam to meet with undercover American agents and inspect the weaponry that had been ordered on behalf of the Tamil Tigers. After the inspection was complete, Varatharasa and one of his co-defendants agreed to arrange for the transfer of money into an undercover bank account in Maryland as payment for the arms and munitions.

Matthew Dolan

Howard County

: Ellicott City

Man seeks to void murder-try conviction

An Ellicott City man sentenced to 30 years in prison in the attempted murder of his ex-wife is seeking to overturn his conviction, contending that he received inadequate defense counsel.

Ghafour Asemani, 39, appeared before Howard County Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure yesterday and said he wanted to represent himself in the appeal. Despite his request, Leasure referred his case to an attorney in the division of the public defender's office that handles complaints.

In February, a three-judge panel in Howard County denied Asemani's attempt to reduce his sentence. He pleaded guilty last year to choking Samira Salmassi in the bathtub of their Ellicott City apartment in July 2005. She sustained permanent brain damage and is unable to leave her hospital bed or communicate.

According to Asemani's most recent, handwritten filings, he was heavily medicated with five anti-psychotic medications when he pleaded guilty in April 2006 and was misled by his public defender to believe he would receive a sentence of less than 10 years. He also argued that his attorney should have proposed his "pre-existing mental illness" as a "mitigating circumstance."

A psychiatrist said in a written report that Asemani had tried to kill himself numerous times while in custody at the Howard County Detention Center and at the Clifford T. Perkins Hospital Center, a state psychiatric facility.

Melissa Harris

Baltimore

: Southeast

Burned warehouse is condemned

A Southeast Baltimore warehouse that was heavily damaged in a three-alarm fire Wednesday night was condemned by building inspectors yesterday shortly after firefighters doused lingering hotspots with water. Fire inspectors had not determined a cause yesterday but were searching the debris at Adcor Industries in the 900 block of S. Grundy St. The plant manufactures equipment used to fill beverage containers and had about $6 million in inventory stored in the building. The plant employs 110 people, a company official said. A Fire Department spokesman said the fire erupted shortly after the last employee left for the day about 5 p.m. No injuries were reported.

Gus G. Sentementes

Pratt library

CityLit Festival to start Saturday

Maryland authors will discuss literature at the Baltimore Enoch Pratt Free Library's fourth CityLit Festival, starting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the central branch, 400 Cathedral St. Mayor Sheila Dixon will read a proclamation to open the event, which will include book readings and panel discussions. More than 50 art and book exhibitors are to be on hand. Among those expected to attend are Michael Cunningham and Connie Briscoe, who wrote Jewels: 50 Phenomenal Black Women Over 50. For a list of authors and activities: www.pratt library.org or www.citylitproject .org.

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